The Art Of The Mixtape (Friday Feels)

I’ve been on a roll for the past few years making playlists again. I slowed to a stop sometime last year. I’m trying to get back on the boombox. 

Growing up, I loved making mix tapes (and then mix CDs, and now playlists). I started with a top-loading brick of a cassette player that had a “record” button. Magic. I’d take songs from the radio or MTV and save them for later. 

Then came the boomboxes. Double cassette stereos allowed you to cue up a song on one side and then record to a fresh tape on the other side. CD players quickly followed, and you could go direct from CD to tape. My mixtape game was pretty good. 

The best part about mixtapes was plotting out the (play)list. Why’d this song need to be before that one? How’d the transition between them work? What were the common elements and how’d they fit into the broader arc/mood/purpose?

And, in the cassette days, everything had to be done in real-time.* You had to cue up the track, press record, press play, and then stop/pause/reset after each song.** Process took HOURS. Glorious, focused, finger-to-plasticky-button-caressing hours. 

Once the re-writeable CD and computers came along, you didn’t need to make mixes in real-time anymore. You’d make your list, pull from your digital library, and start to fiddle with the order. I still spent way too much time on this. Even if playlists make it even easier, getting the mix to feel complete is essential. 

The mix is really just about using someone else’s sonic poetry to tell a story about what you’re feeling (h/t High Fidelity).

I made them for friends. I made them for girlfriends. I made them for myself.

Friends, in the CD-car-visor days, always got embarrassing names/labels in hopes of getting curious passengers to throw them on. “Haha – dude, put on ‘Sweaty workout with Nana mix'” and may FAR worse (and perversely) titled were a marketing specialty of mine.  

Girlfriends got sweet or brooding or “please think I’m deeper than I’m scared I’m not” pleas for acceptance. 

And for me, I always liked to think of them as a snapshot in time. An audiophiles audio file of where I was when I made it. These usually just get/got titled with dates. And I really like this habit. It’s the one I want to maintain as time keeps on slippin’.

I pulled a fresh list together recently. It’s got some old stuff, some new stuff, and some new-to-me stuff. It’s what’s making me happy, what’s making me think, and what’s making me want to make other stuff in form. 

Besides writing, I think playlists are some of my best focused-creativity time. What about you? Are you a mix master? Did you loathe High Fidelity and the rules or do you embrace them? Have some other activity that gets your brain going in similar ways? Let me know

Playlist liner notes drop Sunday 4/17/2022. Take a listen now on Apple Music or Spotify.

*shoutout to high-speed dubbing, but I rarely used that button

**once you knew your gear, you could master the “left forefinger presses play while right pointer and middle finger jam the play/record combo down,” amongst other advanced techniques. And we haven’t even discussed gain staging and what to do with quiet tapes.